American leads Nordic chapter of prestigious research group

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A mathematician and former financial services executive from Chicago has emerged as president of the Nordic countries’ first chapter of Sigma Xi, the scientific research society where membership is by invitation only and includes scores of Nobel Prize winners. Paul C Kettler says he just wants to “promote interaction” among scientists and engineers in the Nordic region.

It’s not very often that foreigners take over top spots in Norwegian organizations, not least in Nordic ones. Kettler, however, has played a key role in organizing the organization in question, “and I think I ended up as president by default more than anything else.”

The modest mathematician ended up in Oslo just six years ago, after marrying a Norwegian, and took the opportunity to finish up his doctorate at the University of Oslo. The Princeton graduate earlier had run a financial services company, Kettler & Co, with offices around the US and a franchise in Dusseldorf.

He was “essentially retired” by his own account when he left for Oslo, but seems far from that now. Long-term respect for what he calls the “scientific honorary fraternity” of Sigma Xi, which he joined at Princeton in 1963, prompted him to set up a Nordic chapter for the dozens of members already living in the Nordic countries, most of whom had been invited to join while studying in the US.

The society has around 60,000 members worldwide, mostly in the US and most of them PhDs, who are committed to original scientific research. Around 200 have received Nobel prizes and Albert Einstein was a member in his time. Sigma Xi, founded in 1886 at Cornell University in New York, also publishes the American Scientist magazine.

“I’m proud of this organization,” Kettler says, and sees it as a means for “developing interdisciplinary collaboration” on everything from climate change issues to economics and high-tech issues. His goal is to attract active Nordic researchers into the international group, as well as young reseachers.

“My main goal is to promote networking in the region,” he said. Most of the interaction now occurs in cyberspace, but they’ll hold a meeting in Copenhagen next spring and Kettler will introduce the chapter at Sigma Xi’s annual meeting in Houston next week. Current membership includes 20 researchers in Norway, 19 in Denmark, 18 in Sweden, nine in Finland and two in Iceland.